10/18/2013 06:08 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

PQ says EU trade deal will help Quebec

The Parti Québécois says a new trade deal between Canada and the European Union will benefit the province’s economy by allowing access to a market of half a billion people, despite concerns that it could mean losses for Quebec’s dairy industry.

“It’s an opportunity for growth, for jobs for Quebec. I think that’s what we need in the context where we have seen our exports to the U.S. decline over the last 10 years,” said Nicolas Marceau, Quebec's finance minister. “I think it’s a very big deal. It’s an access to a large number of customers and markets.”

The trade deal came under attack earlier this week when Quebec dairy farmers were outraged to hear that twice as much tariff-free European cheese would be allowed across the border.

Marceau said the province is unhappy with how farmers may be affected by the trade deal, and that the government will make sure dairy workers are compensated for any losses.

"I wish the decision of the federal government would have been different. Now once we heard of that decision we made sure that a compensation mechanism would be put in place to compensate both dairy producers and milk producers and cheese producers," said Marceau.

Marceau said the deal will not be ratified by the national assembly until they are sure dairy workers will be fairly compensated.

The sweeping free trade deal with the 28-member EU — which has a total population of 500 million and generates $17 trillion in annual economic activity — covers everything from cars to food to intellectual property.

Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard said the sovereignist government should take note that there are benefits to belonging to Canada.

"This is one of the many examples of the huge benefits brought to Quebec by belonging in the Canadian federation. I think this has to be said. I know it's hard for the PQ to accept that, but hey, today it's great for Quebec, of course," said Couillard.

"It's a great day for Canada too."

Under the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and NAFTA, Canada will have preferential access to more than half of the world’s economy. 

The agreement in principle also provides for working groups to look at non-tariff barriers — regulations on health and sanitation, for example — that interfere with trade.